Starting Ventures project: creating a solar-powered local economy in Kenya

March 25, 2019

Rural regions in Africa often lack a stable electrical power supply, which results in the lack of a vibrant economy, decent work and stable income opportunities. With the Starting Ventures project “Global South,” BASF New Business aims to build an agricultural business hub with an integrated electrical power supply in Nyandarua County in Kenya. For this, project lead Dominik Dieckmann created an integrated concept that combines several steps in the food value chain in a single project. Construction of the solar-powered agricultural complex is scheduled to start at the end of 2019.

Many rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa are sparsely populated and have insufficient power supplies. This is also true in the county of Nyandarua, located northwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The lack of power transmission and storage infrastructure makes it exceptionally hard for electricity suppliers to establish an extensive power distribution system. Therefore, only a small number of businesses and even fewer private households have a steady electricity supply. Due to the difficult economic situation, only a small proportion of the population can afford electricity, which makes the market even more unattractive for suppliers.

The solar-powered agricultural complex will be built on an area of roughly 80,000 m² northwest of Nairobi (site plan).

This insufficient power supply is one reason for a lack of cold chains for agricultural products which require steady electricity. This, in turn, is the main cause of harvest losses: It is estimated that 25 to 30 percent of products of animal origin and 40 to 50 percent of vegetable and fruit products spoil in countries like Kenya. Against this backdrop, the solution for a steady power supply should also contribute to food safety in the agricultural value chain.

Solar power as a sustainable driver

Given the constant and intense sunlight in Kenya, solar power is a profitable and sustainable energy source. He therefore needs to find partners who could close the missing links of the value chain: from solar power generation, through value and job creation to private households.

Dialog on closing the value chain

A round table will be held with the most relevant stakeholders, including financial investors, suppliers of energy and farming technology, colleagues from the BASF departments for performance materials for thermal insulation, and local farmers who need cold storage for their harvests and livestock. The co-operation aims at creating a value chain for energy and food safety: The solar power can be used for cold storage. The cooling system is supported by insulation material from BASF Performance Materials. Batteries store the excess solar power produced during daylight hours. In parallel, BASF offers programs to train local residents for agricultural work. With steady income, private households can afford electricity. 

For a sustainable economic development: Helping people to help themselves

The first buildings of the agricultural business hub will be erected at the end of 2019. The goal is that regional public institutions, such as schools and hospitals, can also benefit from the excess energy generated by the solar power system. “The vision is that the project serves as a pilot and that further sites like this can be built in East Africa,” says Dieckmann.

The project supports the achievement of the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: 

(1)  No poverty
(2)  Zero hunger
(3)  Good health and well-being
(4)  Quality education
(5)  Gender equality
(7) Affordable and clean energy 
(8) Decent work and economic growth
(9)  Industry, innovation and infrastructure
(10) Reduced inequalities
(11) Sustainable cities and communities
(12) Responsible consumption and production
(13) Climate action